Herzog Calls on Israeli Arabs to Be Bridge to Jewish People

President Chaim Herzog called on leaders of Israel’s Arab community Wednesday to “face up to their need and obligation to be a bridge between Arabs and Jews, to recognize that Israel is their country” and it “will not disappear.”

Herzog’s speech wound up a daylong seminar on the crisis of intercommunal relations in Israel, attended by about 150 people representing 37 voluntary groups in Israel that are actively trying to improve Jewish-Arab relations.

The event, whose main sponsor was the New Israel Fund, was held at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. The seminar moved to the nearby presidential residence for its concluding session.

Herzog was sharply critical of Arab leaders in the administered territories who, along with hostile Arab states and terrorist organizations, “continue to call for increased violence, extremism, hostile relations between the two people.”

The president also rebuked Jewish extremists who take the law into their own hands. But he pointed out that the Jewish political leadership “almost without exception” speaks out for restraint.

He said he was heartened by the large number of groups taking part in the seminar, but there still were “very disturbing signs of alienation between Jewish and Arab citizens.”

Several other key speakers criticized the national leadership for failing to face the challenge of worsening relations.

Edna Margalit, vice president of the New Israel Fund, spoke of “a widening chasm” between Arab and Jewish citizens.

She warned, “If the public and its leadership persist in their apathy, by the time people get around to doing something, it may be too late, and we will all pay the price.”

ISRAELI LACK OF UNDERSTANDING

Makram Khouri, a leading Arab actor from Haifa, complained of a lack of understanding on the part of Jews.

“We have identified, as Israeli Arabs, with our Palestinian brethren since, after all, we are talking about one people,” he said. “This is a natural and human identification.

“But the Israeli public has not understood this need and, to my great sorrow, has turned somewhat hostile.

“They forget that they too identified with their Jewish brethren in distress. Is what is permitted to others forbidden to me?” he asked.

Alouph Hareven, a senior fellow at the Van Leer Institute, offered an optimistic view of a future he said was possible.

It would be a time when Jews could visit Arab villages and Arabs could walk the streets of Tel Aviv without fear, he said.

“A day will come when the Israeli government will include an Arab minister, the supreme court an Arab justice, the police an Arab commissioner.

“After peace with our neighbors, young Arabs will also be called on to serve in the Israel Defense Force. And Arabs will serve in senior posts in civil service, and large economic enterprises will also be headed by Arabs, and there will be Arab university professors,” Hareven predicted.

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